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disorienting us
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disorienting us

race, gender, dieselpunk, and diaspora

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disorienting us

sexuality is invisible too

By S. Qiouyi Lu  /  March 1, 2015  /  0 Comments

I’ve been having a discussion on tumblr that started with a post I saw about how some people who ship Mako and Korra have been calling it a queer relationship. I said that I saw why people were upset about that, but I also understood the relationship as queer because I’ve experienced bisexual erasure in my relationships with men.

However, someone brought up that they felt that only individuals have sexual orientations, and that it doesn’t make sense to characterize a relationship as having a certain orientation.

I’ve been thinking about that, and, initially, I thought

[This post is a fragment. The archived draft ended mid-sentence. —SQL 2023-04-11]

stop ma’aming me

By S. Qiouyi Lu  /  February 28, 2015  /  0 Comments

I know you’re being polite, but:

  • stop ma’aming me
  • stop calling me a lady
  • or a gal
  • or a girl
  • stop assuming that I’m a woman
  • stop referencing me with she/her pronouns

How I experience gender is separate from how I present myself physically. Gender is invisible, and, the more comfortable I am in understanding my experiences with gender, the more discomfort I feel when any of the above and other assumed gendering happens. Each instance is a microaggression, an invalidation of my experiences. I don’t experience bodily dysphoria in a gender-related sense, but all these invalidations add up to a social dysphoria that manifests itself as frustration and anger.

You don’t need to gender me. You don’t need to ma’am me. You don’t need to call your reading of me to the forefront of your interactions with me.

I want to live in a world where people don’t assume gender, and I’ve been encouraging myself to take steps toward creating that world for at least myself. With people I know, I’ve begun to experience a form of seeing where gender fades away and becomes less visible. Not in a colorblind racism sort of let’s-ignore-it-and-hope-it-goes-away sense, but in some form of dual awareness, where I’m conscious of my friends’ genders, but also find them irrelevant to most of my interactions with them. For the most part, I know how my friends identify when it comes to gender, but I don’t presume that I know the details, either.

I’m beginning to get some of that double-vision with strangers, too. I do have the instinctual reflex to categorize, but I want to shift my foundations to start using gender-neutral references to strangers regardless of how I assume them to be gendered. I’ve seen people that I’ve been attracted to recently, but I no longer feel comfortable presuming that they’re women.

In the grand scheme of things, I want femininity and the feminine to be divided from womanhood, and masculinity and the masculine to be divided from manhood. When femininity and masculinity stand alone, nonbinary people who don’t present androgynously might be able to be read as nonbinary instead of assumed to be in a binary category. When femininity and masculinity stand alone, trans people who do fit into the binary might be less stigmatized, more understood, more accepted.

Femininity does not disqualify someone from manhood. Womanhood does not require adhering to (cis) femininity. Gender is vast.

I’ve been sitting on a lot of thoughts that I’ve been meaning to unpack. I’ve been treating this blog as a place where I should post more finished, polished thoughts, but that’s only led to nonproductivity in this space. I’m working out my experiences, working out my thoughts, figuring out how I understand things, how to understand and interpret things. No more polishing, because I’m unpolished to begin with.

So. Expect more thoughts to come.


By S. Qiouyi Lu  /  December 13, 2014  /  0 Comments
Terms naming new public sites

I have a fascination with the act of naming. Roman Mars and Graham Coreil-Allen do a fantastic job of summing up naming’s power and allure in the episode “Names vs The Nothing” of 99% Invisible:

Roman Mars     So it all comes back to a name against a nothing. When you give a nothing a name, you can reimagine it as a something.

Graham Coreil-Allen     If we can create terms for these otherwise invisible experiences and places and things that we all share, that we all of us share, and these public spaces, these new public sites, then it’s a starting point—it’s a starting point for that conversation. By giving it a term, we can then talk about it, and we all know what we’re talking about, then—that’s the first step. The second step is envisioning, “Okay, well, how does this need to be improved?” And the third step is, “How do we do that?”

Roman Mars     The naming is where it starts.

(I highly recommend listening to 99% Invisible, by the way—it’s a fantastic, thought-provoking podcast. This episode in particular sparked something in my brain that led me to write up this post, which ties together a number of related ideas that I’ve been stewing on.)

Naming gives us vocabulary to use to describe our experiences. From those experiences, we can draw narratives. Some psychological and philosophical approaches equate the person with the narrative they form about their experiences. Others may not see the narrative as a requisite criterion of personhood—under their views, a person only needs to interpret their experiences. Whether or not that interpretation forms a cohesive narrative doesn’t matter.

Regardless of whether or not you think narratives are a necessary aspect of personhood, the fact remains that naming is a critical part of understanding ourselves and our identities. This triad of name-experience-narrative provides a framework for understanding both the popularity of identity-related neologisms, as well as the backlash to those neologisms. The close ties between name, experience, and narrative also allow us to interpret pushes for language change and the backlash to those efforts as well.

New identity-related words crop up everywhere. They’re particularly visible in gender-related spheres of discussion. Long lists exist to detail neologisms for genders outside of women and men. Even longer lists detail coined pronouns, like my own—you’ll notice that my pronouns are ae/aer/aers, which don’t, as far as I know, have any root in pre-existing pronouns.

“The naming is where it starts.” I’d spent the past two or three years waffling about the legitimacy of how I experience gender. Because there was no word, no name, that accurately described what I felt, I thought that I was just making those feelings up—even though the cis women I talked to couldn’t relate to how I felt, suggesting that I wasn’t quite one of them.

Plus, we so often skip the experiences part of the names-experiences-narratives framework and equate a name with a single narrative. So I didn’t—and still don’t—feel comfortable identifying as “transgender,” because I never experienced any kind of shift or crossing that seems so integral to transgender narratives. My experience has been one of becoming, which is why “genderescent” is such an important term to me: it’s the only term that named some of how I experience gender.

But genderessence only partially comforted me. I still didn’t have a specific name for my gender. “Nonbinary,” like “genderescent,” is an umbrella term. My specific experience is of sliding along this spectrum between femininity and some sort of nonbinary, nonmasculine gender. When I’m referred to as a woman, as a lady, it’s jarring. Sometimes, it’s as minor as an itch that I have to pause and scratch, but can then ignore. Other times, it’s like that lurching feeling you get when you think there’s one more step, but there isn’t. Terms like “demigirl” didn’t fit, because the very inclusion of the word “girl” would rip me right back out.

My recent comfort in understanding and identifying my experiences stems from coming out on Facebook. In coming out, I had to name myself and the pronouns that accurately name me. I identified myself as nonbinary, because it’s one of the more accessible gender neologisms and doesn’t necessarily imply a co-occurring identification as transgender. There’s room under that umbrella to accommodate me. Genderessence still describes me better, as it was specifically designed to work outside of a colonial, white supremacist framework, but I’m still working out how I want to present the term in public and semipublic spheres. I do want to provide more access to it, but only to the people that it describes.

In coming out, I started a conversation, and I’m still so grateful that people have been supportive and inquisitive in the most positive of ways. And in starting a conversation and beginning to truly claim my experiences, I’ve been able to connect to others who feel similarly, but could never speak about it because they didn’t have the words for it, either. Names give us communities.

The backlash to identity-related neologisms, meanwhile, stems from the fact that the conversation that a name begins necessarily forces participants to reflect on the cultural narratives that they’ve formed. Some people are fine assimilating new experiences and shifting their narratives. They build extensions to their houses. Other people take an experience that contradicts their own as a threat. To them, conversations about different experiences rock the foundations of their houses, threatening to destroy their pre-existing shelter. Whether or not their house actually crumbles is irrelevant. The threat is enough to provoke a response. (The two types aren’t mutually exclusive, either—each can become the other.)

Renaming, like naming, opens conversations. But instead of transforming a nothing into a something, renaming transforms a something into something else. I don’t believe that changing our words changes our thoughts in the Whorfian or Orwellian sense. Rather, I believe campaigns to rename our existing words, such as the R-Word campaign, ask us to confront the narratives we’ve attached to certain words. We bear witness to experiences we hadn’t considered before and are asked to create new narratives. There is, in most cases, no intent to control or to limit—just the intent to educate and to ask us to reconsider what we believe.

All words are names—names of identities, names of actions, names of relationships, names of qualities. A fundamental principle of linguistics is that language—and, therefore, the words that make up language—changes. So we name things, and we rename things. We call conversations into existence and transform nothings into somethings, somethings into something elses. We change, and our experiences and our narratives change along with us.

Invasion vs. Expansion

By S. Qiouyi Lu  /  December 10, 2014  /  0 Comments

[This post was saved as a draft. It was a copy of a response to a message on Tumblr and shows the discourse at the time around the concept now known as “women and nonbinary.” I still experience both fluidity and alienation around “women’s spaces,” and this post shows nascent thoughts about the continuing problems with defining nomenclature and intent around gender. —SQL 2023-04-11]

I tend to hash out thoughts about gender and other topics on Tumblr, and Lauren contacted me on Sunday to ask a question:

ok so i’m having gender feels and i was just wondering if i could ask you something – i know you mentioned wanting to go to a “girls night” sleepover thing or something despite not being a girl in a post once, and i was just wondering how you feel about being in women’s spaces as a non-woman (but like, femme & non-trans person)?? idk how to feel and idk what my gender even is so maybe i am a woman?? but if i’m not a woman then am i invading women’s spaces by being there?? idk.

idk, sometimes it’s a matter of passing for a women, like when I’m using gender-segregated public restrooms. other times, when it’s something women-oriented, like a feminist space or a girls’ night sleepover… I don’t consider it an invasion; I consider my presence as functioning under an expanded understanding of “woman”.

I think it also depends on the intent of the space. like, wellesley and other women’s schools have been struggling with how to identify themselves as a women-only campus while also accommodating non-women. I’m kind of ehhhhh about how the media and wellesley has focused on it, in that there’s so much being done to accommodate trans men, and part of me is like ??? so you’re identifying as a man, albeit a trans man; why’s it so important for you to be in this space that’s delineated as a women’s space? but yeah, those dialogues haven’t discussed how to accommodate people like us, or dmab people who are feminine of center while not IDing as trans women.

so my point with bringing up wellesley is: the intent of spaces like wellesley is to provide a safe haven that fosters growth and creativity away from the dominance of men, where women (read: non-men) can lead and innovate. so, sure, it’s a women’s space, but it’s a women’s space that, by design, has room for non-men. so, in my opinion, women’s spaces provide room for non-men who are feminine of center. and non-men who are exactly center, come to think of it.

my coworker who wants to host a ladies’ night sleepover did want to offer another name for it to accommodate me, and wellesley and other women’s colleges struggle with how to identify themselves, but tbh, although I don’t identify as a woman, or a lady, I don’t necessarily see the identification of a space as a women’s space as being overly restrictive or exclusive.

I think feminine of center people, regardless of gender assigned at birth, are absolutely NOT invading women’s spaces when we use them. we of course are free to decline to use those spaces, and we can form our own spaces as well. but like, although we may not ID as women, part of our experience is that we’re read as women/feminine, which does lend us common experiences that make a women’s space more familiar than, say, a men’s space, or even a nonbinary space, depending on how far from center you are.

does that help any? 🙂


By S. Qiouyi Lu  /  December 9, 2014  /  0 Comments
Ra(i)ze cover

These are the words we needed when we were growing up inside of the heart of American empire.

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012 and, to my knowledge, there were no zines like this in the works when I was there. So I’m elated to see students from my alma mater organizing now as radical Asians and getting their words out to inspire future generations.

My background probably differs from most of the authors’ backgrounds. The majority of the students who go to UNC grew up in North Carolina, a state that’s not exactly known for its Asian population. Meanwhile, I grew up in Southern California and was raised predominantly in the Asian spaces that are available here. Yet, despite our differences, I find myself relating to so much of what the RadAsians have written.

Regardless of where in the US we grew up, we experience Asian–American liminality: that sensation of multiple worlds tugging at us and wrongly insisting that our identities are mutually exclusive. We feel the distance of diaspora, the confusion of “authenticity”, the loss of assimilation. We are marked as Other and taught to hate ourselves and our bodies. Exotification and fetishization forcibly code us as either repulsive and sexless, or desirable—and violable.

Ra(i)ze is a safe space: somewhere where the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual violence that I’ve endured is affirmed, somewhere where the hurt I’ve felt living as an Asian American is echoed. Ra(i)ze is raw and vulnerable, but it’s clearly aimed at validating the in-group reader’s own rawness and vulnerability.

What I love the most about Ra(i)ze, though, is that it’s bookended by hope. Holly Sit’s “Ra(i)ze” shows that sanctuaries do exist for people like us, and Anne Zhou’s “A recipe for Self-Love” reminds us to be gentle to ourselves as we work out who we are and what we can do to make the world a better place.

The only thing I could possibly ask of Ra(i)ze and future iterations of the zine is for there to be more representation of South Asian voices, and perhaps some more diversity in the Southeast Asian voices as well. My impression is that the authors are mostly Chinese American and Vietnamese American. I’m Chinese American myself, which no doubt accounts for much of why I can relate so much to the zine. But Asian America is vast and diverse—a zine purporting to discuss our shared experiences should reflect more of our complexity.

I wish I’d read these words and met these people when I was struggling to understand myself during my college years. Even though I now have a better grasp on how I relate to the world and have people who support me for who I am, Ra(i)ze still makes me feel less alone.

Buy a copy of Ra(i)ze on Etsy. You can also follow UNC’s RadAsians on Tumblr.

Dieselpunk road map

By S. Qiouyi Lu  /  December 6, 2014  /  0 Comments

In thinking about dieselpunk’s aesthetics and historical context and how to engage with that without glorifying war and Nazis or relying on Orientalist tropes, I plan on going through a list of media and articles to set a baseline for dieselpunk as it’s currently expressed and discussed.

I’ll be adding to this regularly.

Disorienting semantics

By S. Qiouyi Lu  /  December 6, 2014  /  0 Comments

When I say “disorienting”, I mean it in the traditional sense of the word: I want us to lose our bearings, to stray from the paths we know. I want us to be lost. I want us to deconstruct and dismantle the familiar and unfamiliar. In disorienting us, I want to offer us the opportunity to reclaim our paths on our own terms.

disorient, v., to displace, to lose one’s bearings, to lose one’s sense of time, of place, of identity

But when I say “disorienting”, I also mean it in an imagined sense of the word: perhaps not disorienting, but unorienting. I turn from the ideologies that homogenized my ancestors and millions of others into “the Orient”. I turn from the true east I know, the European influence that dominates the land I’ve settled on. I disorient the Orient. I reorient the Orient.

disorient, v., to dismantle Orientalism, to accord individuality to the homogenized Orient

And when I say disorienting us, I mean to say that I am not omniscient: I don’t know all the answers. I learn and theorize, and I’m disoriented along with you.

These are nascent thoughts. Over time, they’ll solidify. Most likely they’ll change. However they morph, I’m honored that you’re here with me.


This is an archive of an inactive blog. My thoughts and opinions may have changed since the publication of these posts.

disorienting us is the thinky-thoughts blog of one S. Qiouyi Lu, who is, among other things, second-generation Han Chinese-American, genderescent, and nonbinary. Ae/aer/aers, they/them/theirs, and pronounless references are all acceptable.




Header photos: Public domain portraits of Anna May Wong

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